When it comes to sleep, I consider myself somewhat of an expert. This is because I had problems with sleep a while back during my college days. The problem was that I was a very light sleeper, and I still am. Even the very slightest noise would wake me up or keep me awake. But the strange thing is, having the TV on, helped me go to sleep. I guess the constant sound of something familar in the room helped me sleep better, or maybe it helped drown out the other noises in the room. Even nowadays, I usually need the TV on to get to sleep. Luckily, our TV has an off timer that turns itself off, but sometimes the sound of the TV turning off would wake me. Over time, I learned to be able to sleep a bit sounder even with noise in the room. And even when I do wake up, I can easily fall back to sleep now.
I’ve noticed that Haruka has the same problem. Constant noise (like the TV, or the car engine (when driving), or the heater running) won’t wake her up, or will even serve to put her to sleep, but something like the sound of a door closing would wake her. Sometimes, even the sound of her own sneeze or cough wakes her up, and then she has a hard time getting back to sleep. This usually means that one of us has to wake up and put her back to sleep. This routine could repeat itself several times a night, which results is two really tired and sleep deprived parents.
So to get around this issue, I needed to understand the sleep mechanism, or in other words, recognize and understand “how sleep works.” (This is something I studied a long time ago to get around my own sleeping problems.)
Most people tend to believe that being in the concious and unconcious state is like a light switch, and that we are in the state of one or the other. In realitly, sleep is a gradiant of many stages stemming from light sleep or drowsiness to very deep (almost comatose) sleep, according to the Sleep Disorder Channel website. Just to summarize, here are the details of the various states of sleep:
- Stage 1 – Drowsiness or light sleep. In this state, the eyes may or may not be closed, and the person is somewhat aware of their surroundings. Since the person is not fully unconcious, he/she may be easily awakened, and may not be aware that they were asleep.
- Stage 2 – Unconsious, light sleep. In this state, breathing becomes heavier and the heart rate slows as the body prepares for a deeper state of sleep. The person is often not aware of what is going on in their environment, but still can easily be awaken from this state.
- Stage 3 – Medium level sleep. Breathing is much heavier and the person is unaware of what is going on in their surroundings. Usually, its not as easy to wake a person from this level of sleep as compared to stage 1 or 2, but can be awaken by loud noises or constant stimulation of one or more of the five senses.
- Stage 4 – Deep Sleep. At this stage breathing can be very heavy and the heart rate can be very slow. The person is completely unaware of their surroundings. Even loud noises or sensory stimulation may not awaken them, so its more difficult to awaken a person who is in deep sleep.
- Stage 5 – REM (Rapid Eye Movement) or the dream state. This is the least understood stage of sleep. One would tend to think that this is would be even deeper than stage 4, but actually REM sleep is ver shallow state of sleep, comparable to even stage 1 or 2. The person is very aware of their surroundings and usually can be awaken quite easily. The real difference between REM sleep and light sleep, is that there is much more brain activity during this stage, and can be characterized by movements of the eyes and eyelids a.k.a. REM sleep. In some cases, some may even have their eyes wide open. Dreaming also occurs at this stage, which is thought to be needed in order to fully decompress the brain from the day’s activities. Sleep disorders, such as sleep walking or talking usually occur at this stage.
Based on my own experience with REM sleep coupled with sleeping with the TV running, I have learned that dreams can be influenced by what is going on within ones sleep environment. For example, I had a dream a long time ago about winning an Olympic gold medal for 100 meter freestyle swimming, only to awaken to see that Olympic swimming was on TV. This indicated to me that since REM happens during a very shallow state of sleep, and having so much brain activity at that state, derams or even sleep quality can be adversely effected by ones sleep environment.
So what does this all mean? In Haruka’s case, it means that the majority of her sleeping sessions are spent in the REM state, which I have confirmed by watching her eyes move and flicker while she’s asleep. While her being in a long state of REM sleep may be good for her, it also so means that she is very sensitive to what is going on in her sleep environment most of the time, and is susceptible to be awaken easily to even the slightest bit of noise. Since her sleep environment at night is really quiet, excessive noise can’t really be blamed for her waking up easily or not being able to sleep.
According to this aticle on the Sleep Disorder Channel website, the very thing that we thought was helping her get to sleep faster may actully be hindering her. Often times, we usually pick Haruka up, cradle and rock her to sleep when she wakes up in the middle of the night. In turn, she may have grown too accustomed to this, hence not able to self-soothe and fall back to sleep on her own. And now, instead of falling back to sleep, she needs (expects) to be picked up and rocked back to sleep everytime she awakens and cries.
So, as a plan of action, the first thing we will try is putting her to bed immediately after changing and feeding her. I know already that she will cry and probably for a VERY long time before she falls to sleep, but I think he need to start somewhere with this otherwise we will be doomed to do this for the next year or so. Although it won’t be an overnight change, hopefully it will work quickly.
Haruka, sitting on the sofa.